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Author: Aunt Augusta Page 2 of 12

No but a Tacksman?

1814   Golburn, Sutherland, Scottish Highlands

“Young Robbie, he’s got an eye to your daughter,” said Màiri Gunn, as she drove her hoe into the ground, “and he’s smart and a right handsome young man, so tall for his age.”

“Robbie?” Sofia Gray’s mother frowned. “They grew up together, but since she’s becomin’ a woman, I’ve kept ‘er in the bothy and away from ‘im. He’ll be no but a tacksman,” she said with disdain.

blackhouse“No but a tacksman?” Màiri stopped and leaned on the wooden handle. “A tacksman is as high as a daughter of yours is bound to go. What, do you have plans to wed her to the son of the laird or something?” She laughed.

Sofia’s mother gritted her teeth and practically growled as she attacked the ground with renewed fervor. “We’re the biggest tenant farmers on this tack. They’d be lookin’ hard t’ find a better match fer their sons, but especially young Archibald.”

Màiri stared at her and gritted her teeth for a moment. “You forget yourself, woman. How do you intend to make this come to pass?”

Sofia Somewhere Like HomeMrs. Gray drew herself up. “Why, by sendin’ Sofia up t’ the manor into service. The sons won’t be able to resist her, and she’ll be wed before the year’s out,” she said, her voice edged with triumph. “An’ the whole family’ll benefit.”

“You have rocks in your head, woman.” Màiri wouldn’t bother going into all the reasons why it would never happen. “She’d end up like poor Fenella. Just returned from the laird’s to the village, and her so far along.”

robbie somewhere like home“Sofia isn’t a slut like her.” Mrs. Gray turned up her nose. “And we’re related to the laird.”

“We’re all related to the laird.” Màiri snorted. “No doubt it wasn’t for Fenella’s lack of trying to resist. Fenella’s a lovely girl. Your Sofia is too, but she’s a lot softer than Fenella ever was—she wouldn’t survive up there.” Màiri shook her head at the audacity of the woman. Everyone knew about the laird’s eldest son. Pray young Sofia wasn’t sent up into that lion’s den.

scottish

This has been a deleted scene from Somewhere Like Home, Lizzi Tremayne’s contribution to the Bluestocking Belles’ 2018 Holiday Boxed set! Hope you enjoyed it!

somewhere like home blurb

From the Highlands to Waterloo—can love prevail over fate?

1813, Scottish Highlands

When Robert refuses to become clan tacksman after his father, he is disowned and off down the road to build a life for himself and his beloved Sofia.

Sofia’s waiting turns to despair when her mother buys safety during the clearance of their village at Sofia’s expense, leaving her at the mercy of the laird’s degenerate son.

Rob emerges from the hell of Waterloo wanting only to see Sofia again…and his father.

Follow Your Star Home is available now!

If you like Somewhere Like Home in Follow Your Star Home, be sure to join  Lizzi Tremayne’s VIP List here to be notified when Somewhere Called Home, the full novel, is released in May 2019!

The Bluestocking Belles 2018 Holiday Boxed Set

Divided sweethearts seek love and forgiveness in this collection of seasonal novellas.

Forged for lovers, the Viking star ring is said to bring lovers together, no matter how far, no matter how hard.

In eight stories covering more than a thousand years, our heroes and heroines put this legend to the test. Watch the star work its magic as prodigals return home in the season of goodwill, uncertain of their welcome.

The Bluestocking Belles are proud to present eight never before published novellas in their latest Holiday collection. As always, we will donate some of the proceeds of the box set to a cause dear to the hearts of the Bluestocking Belles, women’s education. 25% of all proceeds will be donated to the Malala Fund.

Eight original stories, more than 600 pages of diverse characters,  complex relationships, and happily ever afters.

Only $3.99 US for this massive book!  Enjoy!

FYSHThe Novellas

A Yule Love Story, by Nicole Zoltack

When Sonja stumbles upon fallen bodies littering her beach, she heals the lone survivor. After all, her late mother had been a healer.

Unbeknownst to Sonja, that survivor is none other than Anoundus. At one time, he ruled alongside his brother as co-kings of Sweden, but no longer. He has been banished.

What kind of life will he face here? What role will Sonja play? Can the two dare to find love this Yuletide?

Paradise Regained, by Jude Knight

James Winderfield yearns to end a long journey in the arms of his loving family. But his father’s agents offer the exiled prodigal forgiveness and a place in Society — if he abandons his foreign-born wife and children to return to England.

With her husband away, Mahzad faces revolt, invasion and betrayal in the mountain kingdom they built together. A queen without her king, she will not allow their dream and their family to be destroyed.

But the greatest threats to their marriage and their lives together is the widening distance between them. To win Paradise, they must face the truths in their hearts.

Somewhere Like Home, by Lizzi Tremayne

Things are heating up in the Scottish Highlands. When Robert refuses to become clan tacksman after his father, he is disowned and heads for the city to build a new life for himself and his beloved Sofia.

Sofia’s waiting turns to despair when her mother buys safety for herself and the remainder of the family during the clearance of their village—and leaves Sofia to the lusts of the laird’s degenerate son.

Rob emerges from the hell of Waterloo wanting only to see Sofia again…and his father.

But Sofia is dead, or is she?

A Wish for All Seasons, by Rue Allyn

The last thing Caibre MacFearann wants is to return to Scotland let alone be forced to stay there. But the chance to rekindle the lost love of his youth is too tempting to resist.

Losing Caibre MacFearann’s love once hurt so much that Aisla MacKai wants nothing to do with him when a blizzard brings the man to her doorstep. Kindness and human charity require that she give him shelter, no matter that her poor heart had never mended.

From the Umbrella Chronicles: James and Annie’s Story, by Amy Quinton

His Grace, James Quill, will not be a bachelor-in-poor-standing for very much longer. For I, Lady Harriett Ross of the Infamous Umbrella, have avowed to orchestrate his betrothal to his former best friend, Miss Annie Merryweather, whether either of them wishes it.

Surprisingly, His Grace has agreed to my proposed 10-step plan.

Not-so-surprisingly, Her Soon-to-be-Grace is determined to resist the notorious prodigal son.

Will they find love and forgiveness this holiday season?

Time will tell.

Lady Harriett Ross,

Self-proclaimed Motley Meddler * Mistress of Destiny * Wielder of the Infamous Umbrella

I’m just an old woman with opinions. On everything.

The Last Post, by Caroline Warfield

Love for Rosemarie Legrand gave Harry the will to go on during the horror of trench warfare. Now, army orders trap him in a camp awaiting repatriation. A bout of the Spanish flu lays him even lower, but he is determined not to leave without her. He’ll desert if he has to.

Rosemarie waits for word on her cousin’s farm where she took refuge when war reached the outskirts of Amiens. She wrote to tell him. Has he forgotten her? When the slimmest of information arrives, she sets out to find him.

Can these two lovers reunite before it is too late?

A Fine Chance, by Elizabeth Ellen Carter

Helen Watson arranged a job for an out-of-work former soldier at her workplace, unaware that she’s the miracle Robert Fairmont needed.

Robert has returned from the Great War a new man with a new name. A job in his father’s factory is the first step toward reconciliation.

Can Helen forgive him for hiding his true or will Robert end up losing his father and his one true love?

All he needs is a fine chance.

One Last Kiss: The Knights of Berwyck, A Quest Through Time novella, by Sherry Ewing

Banished from his homeland, Thomas of Clan Kincaid lives among distant relatives, reluctantly accepting he may never return home… Until an encounter with the castle’s healer tells him of a woman travelling across time—for him.

Dare he believe the impossible?

Jade Calloway is used to being alone, and as Christmas approaches, she’s skeptical when told she’ll embark on an extraordinary journey. How could a trip to San Francisco be anything but ordinary? But when a ring magically appears, and she sees a ghostly man in her dreams…

Dare she believe in the possible?

Thrust back in time, Jade encounters Thomas—her fantasy ghost. Talk about extraordinary. But as time works against them, they must learn to trust in miracles.

Can they accept impossible love before time interferes?

Hope you love the stories!

Once again, if you like Somewhere Like Home in Follow Your Star Home, be sure to join  Lizzi Tremayne’s VIP List here to be notified when the full novel, renamed  Somewhere Called Home is released in May 2019!

Until next time!

xx

Lizzi Tremayne

 

 

The Ungrateful Scots of the Honorable Lady S—

arrival at coast

My dear Mr. Clement,

I have become aware the Honourable Lady S— of the wilds of the Scottish Highlands has been keeping rather to the drawing rooms and balls of London lately. It seems there has been some discontent in her lands far to the north by some people who cannot see the forest for the trees.

Lady S—, in her goodness, has offered to many of her very own clan, from tacksmen through to the lowest sub-tenant, fine land and a good livelihood fishing and kelping. All they had to do was pick up their belongings and stroll to the coast, where this easy living awaited them.

But no, the more short-sighted them, they fussed and dragged their feet. Her new factor, Gellar, had to encourage them to leave. He lightened their load (so they wouldn’t have to carry their roof poles all the way to the coast) by a few small fires. I’m told it was cold at the time, so the fires should have helped them. A few of the miserable villagers refused to go and were unfortunately burned inside the dismal hovels they called their homes. A few died soon afterwards. One can but try to assist them; they must be expected to make some effort.

Surprisingly, there has been some evidence of unrest from these villagers. It is unfortunate they could not just trust in the benevolence of their clan leader, Lady S—. She means only the best for them.

There has been talk she means to replace the villagers with sheep. Sheep give a much better income per acre than the villagers and their motley cattle. Unfortunately, some of the ingrates have been heard to mutter comments like “your sheep won’t protect you when the French invade your shores,” and other things—much too crude to repeat here. Sheep which have already been placed upon lands have been stolen in large numbers—they were returned, but only after large numbers of Redcoats were dispatched. The rude people have also have been complaining about the factor’s earlier setting of controlled (well, mostly controlled) fires to clear the hills of brush and scruffy vegetation. The dry, useless greenery had to be eliminated so as to improve grass growth before the arrival of the eagerly-anticipated sheep.

With the extra money generated by the sheep, Lady S— will be much better able to assist her clansmen in their lovely new villages by the sea—when they get over their temper tantrums and learn to be grateful.

But all this will have to wait until it is again safe for the good Lady S— to return to her birthright. I, for one, cannot wait to see what these “improvements”, for that is what they certainly are, will be.

Yours respectfully,

An Admirer of Civilized Economics

Whatever can be going on?

This little bit of dirt comes your way compliments of Bluestocking Belle Lizzi Tremayne. Sofia and Robbie’s story, called Somewhere Like Home: The Novella is part of the upcoming Bluestocking Belles’ Christmas anthology! The full novel is expected six months after the release of this boxed set! Watch for it!

You’ll find Lizzi’s details beneath the Bluestocking Belles’ Welcome menu item at the top of this page or find her at the links below the Extract!

scottish

Somewhere Like Home: The Novella*

From the Highlands to Waterloo—

                    can love prevail over fate?

1813, Scottish Highlands

When Robert refuses to become clan tacksman after his father, he is disowned and off down the road to build a life for himself and his beloved Sofia.

Sofia’s waiting turns to despair when her mother buys safety during the clearance of their village at Sofia’s expense, leaving her to the lusts of the laird’s son.

Rob emerges from the hell of Waterloo wanting only to see Sofia again…and his father.

 

Extract

Sofia turned away from the window as heavy footsteps sounded down the hall. “He’s gone, sir,” came a voice from the room next door.

She clamped her jaw tight at the voice of Gellar, the laird’s new man.

Sofia tuned her ears to listen as she drew back the bed curtains and pulled down the rumpled covers, then began to dismantle the bed-makings while trying to remember their replacement order.

“Are your men ready?” The laird said.

“Ready and keen, waiting with metal bins for their hot coals.”

Coals?

Sofia tried to focus on the unfamiliar bedding while still listening. Her heart grew chillier by the word. The bed not only had a straw mattress, all she’d ever known, but a canvas sheet, topped by a feather mattress. Which to tuck the sheets under?

blackhouse

“I don’t expect trouble. There should only be one able-bodied man in the whole village—the rest are off with the cattle. We needn’t worry about Gunn—he won’t be back until tomorrow.” Sofia stopped short, along with her heart.

Gunn? Did she hear correctly?

Then came the fat bolster at the head of the bed. She tossed it into place and fluffed it while she strained to hear.

“So, after we torch the village, we just stand back and wait or leave them to it?” Gellar’s voice grated as Sofia scarcely breathed.snow clearances

“Just in case any of the tenants have the brains to remember,” the laird said, his voice dripping with sarcasm, “you need to make sure they don’t take their roof timbers. They need to burn. I want the tenants gone and they can’t carry their timbers all the way to the coast. They can build with what they find there. Of course,” he chuckled, “there isn’t any wood for miles.”

Gellar laughed, and Sofia gritted her teeth to keep from shrieking.

She finally laid the sheet over the top of the bed, hands shaking so badly she had to walk around the bed several times to straighten it while the men continued.

“The crofts I’ve set aside on the shore won’t let them grow enough food to survive without working the beds and processing the kelp. At least they’ll stay warm while they’re burning it. The market for it isn’t as good as it used to be, but it’s still worth a lot to us. arrival at coastCertainly, more than the tenants and that blasted tacksman are paying in rents here. They won’t have the faintest idea how to fish, but they’ll figure it out if it keeps them from starving. Sheep on the hills instead of my erstwhile ‘clansmen’ will make us a fortune. As my dear lady believes, it will be a better life for them as ‘crofters’—an improvement.”

“For all of us,” Gellar said with a snort. “So, we start an hour before sundown?”

“Ideal,” said the laird. “Get cracking. You’re now my new factor. Make the most of it, ‘Factor Gellar’.”

Sofia flinched at the sound of clinking glasses, then somehow got the blankets on all anyhow and draped the elaborate tapestry ceremo­niously over all. Standing back, she surveyed her handiwork, waiting for her heart to stop racing after the heavy footsteps left the way they’d come.

She found another way back to the servants’ quarters, not daring to pass the open office door.scottish

Want to read more?

You’ll find the rest of the story in Somewhere Like Home: The Novella, part of the Bluestocking Belles’ next collection, to be published in November. Come along to our Facebook Event on 8 September to find out the title of this exquisite boxed set by eight of our Belles! We’ll be telling you more about each story and revealing the cover! We’ll see you there!

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Join Lizzi’s Book Club, with a sampler gift!

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*(and no, sorry, you can not see the cover yet!)

Musings of a Motley Meddler: Men Who Do Not Listen

A Stolen Kiss by Marcus Stone

A Stolen Kiss by Marcus Stone

Christmastide 1814
Bath, England

Dear Interested Parties or Women the World Wide,

Today I’d like to discuss men who do not listen: the bane of every woman’s existence.

But first, a little background. The following is a record of my recent conversation with a certain prodigal duke at my home in London:

“Forgive an old lady for not standing, lad. My doctor says I have poor humours in my toe. What a load of shite, I say, but the left one does ache a’ times.”

He dipped his head and scarcely gave my propped foot a glance. “I need your help.”

“Indeed. I assume this is regarding Miss A— M— and her attentions, or lack thereof?”

I’ve blacked out her name from this transcript, for privacy’s sake, of course. As you well know, I am everything that is discreet.

At this point, I waived THE Umbrella about as many who talk with their hands might, but he took no notice. When I added a “Hmmmm?” and waved it again, I finally caught his eye.

He smiled. “May I hold It?”

“But of course.”

He took it gently, handling it with obvious care, and ran his hand down the length as if it were a treasured heirloom. “I’ve heard much about this Umbrella and your devious little exploits,” He raised a brow, but his lips held a smile. “and I think I might need this.”

So far so good, right? I like a man who knows what he wants. Still, I asked:

“Are you sure, young man? I must warn you,” I gestured towards the Umbrella. “That thing works.”

He smiled. “Good.”

“Right then. What’s your plan?”

Now, he looked uncertain. Of course. Come on, ladies, let’s raise our eyes heavenward and say it together: Men.

“Plan?” he asked.

I couldn’t help but laugh. “Yes, my daft boy. What? Were you just going to toss It at her and hope for the best? It doesn’t work quite like that. Especially with the right kind of woman, and Miss M— is the right kind of woman.”

The duke got that silly look on his face at the mention of Miss M— by name, the one all men get when they are thinking of their one true love, but I digress.

“Ahem, yes, well, fortunately, for you, I have a plan already written out for you to follow.” I handed him my list. “I must say I was quite surprised by your note, saying you would call today. But I’d hoped—and here you are, poised to make my little job quite a bit easier.”

By job, I was referring to my plans to play matchmaker to him and Miss M— regardless of either of their preferences on the matter.

At this point, he stopped to read my plan:

  1. Make your intentions clear
  2. Send her a cornucopia of her favorite flowers
  3. Ensure everyone knows your intentions
  4. Give her a special gift—one she cannot return.
  5. Take her for a ride

His head jerked up, and a faint blush colored his cheeks. “Is take her for a ride a euphemism for…”

I shrugged and withheld a snort. “Time will tell.”

  1. Waltz with her in private
  2. Give her a taste of passion
  3. Take her sailing
  4. Bare your soul
  5. Propose

Now ladies, pay particular attention to this point in our conversation. For when he finished, I immediately articulated my warning:

“Heed me, lad. You must follow this plan to the letter. No skipping steps. No combining steps. And no funny business.”

He didn’t even blink. “When do we begin?” he asked.

“December 22. The Ruthford’s Winter Solstice Ball. I know. They’re a touch pagan, but it’s the perfect segue into Christmastide, which we shall spend at my home near Bath, and we need every opportunity available to us if we hope to secure your engagement by Twelfth Night.”

“Twelfth Night,” he repeated in a bit of a daze.

“Too soon?” I asked.

The duke smiled. “Absolutely not. Just wondering if I can wait that long.”

“Good answer. You’ll do.”

“And if the weather thwarts our departure for Bath?”

“Harrumph. It wouldn’t dare.”

“Heaven forbid.” The duke bowed and turned to leave, a smile on his handsome face.

“Duke? Leave everything else to me.” I help up my finger in warning. “I mean it, lad. Everything. Else.”

The duke dipped his head. “Yes ma’am.”

Now, perhaps I should have added: “Repeat after me. No skipping steps. No combining steps. And no funny business.” A second time.

But alas.

And wouldn’t you know, it all began to unravel on Christmas Day when he botched Step Four completely.

Which required a new step: Step 4.5— Apologize in a grand way; grovel if necessary.

I must say he executed step 4.5 beautifully over Christmas dinner.

But then, His Graceless Idiot decided steps 8 and 9 weren’t truly necessary.

Weren’t. Truly. Necessary.

Now. One would think that when wooing a reluctant woman, a man would take and follow the advice he had received from a knowledgeable person who was/is, in fact, a woman.

But then again, he is only a man. Flawed and human, though beautiful in his way.

Fortunately for him, my Umbrella and I work magic.

Unfortunately for you, you will have to read the latest story in the Umbrella Chronicles by Amy Quinton to find out what happens next—release date, November 2018 and included in the 2018 Bluestocking Belles Holiday Boxed Set.  Details to come!

 

Lady Harriett Ross,

Bloomfield Place
Bath, England

Self-proclaimed Motley Meddler * Mistress of Destiny * Wielder of the Infamous Umbrella

I’m just an old woman with opinions. On everything.

Pah-Ute War: in A Long Trail Rolling!

“Oh my goodness, Edith, will you look at this?” Mabel said, as she rushed through the garden gate.

“What is it?” Edith picked up another of her husband’s shirts from the basket and shook it out.

“Wasn’t your sister coming west from St. Joseph by stage?” Mabel’s voice rose as she spoke.

“Yes?” Edith paused, a clothespin in her mouth.

“Says here,” Mabel went on, “the Pah-Utes are on the warpath again.”

Edith swallowed hard and bit her lip. “Do you blame them, after those idiots in Williams took those poor Indian girls captive?”

“Yes, well, you’re one of the only ones feeling sorry for them. No stage’ll be coming this way for awhile—it says nearly every stage and Pony Express station has been attacked, station keepers killed, and stock run off or taken—for nearly a hundred miles!”

“Where?” Edith peered over her friend’s shoulder at the Deseret News. “Which stations are they talking about?”

“Says from Schell Creek nearly to Carson Sink.”

Edith let her breath out. “Oh, thank God for that. That’s west of us. No stage runs west out of Salt Lake.”

“Oh,” Mabel said, visibly deflating. “But it’s still bad news, nonetheless,” she said defensively.

“But bound to happen,” Edith said, her mouth a firm line.


A Long Trail Rolling

Long Trail Rolling

She didn’t expect to become a target…but she is one now.

In the Old West’s Utah Territory of 1860, Aleksandra is trained by her father in the Cossack arts. She finds herself alone, disguised as a Pony Express rider, running to keep her pa’s killer from finding their family’s secret. And that was before she galloped full speed into the middle of the Paiute Indian War.

Xavier isn’t about to let anyone get too close, especially a woman, while he bides his time as a Pony Express Station Manager in the middle of a desert, evading his heritage as the eldest son of an old Spanish Californio family. His history taught him women are not to be trusted. Letting this slip of a stroppy, yet alluring, girl get under his skin is not on the cards.

The villain is coming closer, with his sights set on Aleksandra. Thrown together in an ever-worsening situation, despite their own agendas, can Aleksandra and Xavier overcome their differences before the ever-increasing odds overtake them?

 


Excerpt from A Long Trail Rolling

In A Long Trail Rolling, due to circumstances best left unsaid until you read it, Aleksandra rides the Pony Express—as a boy. Things went from bad to worse and she rode through some of the worst part of the attacks of the Pah-Ute war. Here’s an excerpt from the story. Aleks is just about to leave a Pony station in to the west of Salt Lake City in Utah Territory.

Enjoy!


‘You take care out there through the canyon. Horses and riders don’t just disappear by themselves.’ Peter shook his head, his lips a firm line below his furrowed forehead.

‘I promise.’ Thanking him, she vaulted on and the mare laid back her ears and fairly flew on toward Overland Canyon.

The trail entered the canyon from the flat valley floor, meandering gradually upward in a wavelike fashion, sage-brush and early sprouts of grass growing along the creek next to the trail. Aleksandra was just wondering why everyone thought Overland Canyon was so dangerous when the trail became abruptly steeper and began to twist and turn tightly as the hills closed in. Sitting straighter, the blood beginning to pound in her ears, she picked up her reins and scanned the mountainsides flanking the track as they rose higher and higher, ensnaring the pathway within a narrow gorge of exposed strata and tumbled stone bluffs.

Bluffs just meant for ambuscade, with caves big enough to shield a man.

Aleksandra gulped. Giving the little mare her head, they raced on through the canyon.

She glanced left up the mouth of a small ravine as they surged past it.

Blood Canyon.

She shuddered, remembering its name from stories in the Indian village, glad she didn’t have to ride through that even narrower defile winding its way to the top of Blood Mountain.

The trail finally opened up into rolling sage-brush covered flats, Canyon Station dead ahead.

Feeling faint, Aleksandra gasped for a breath, wondering how long she’d held it through the last gauntlet. Laughing shakily, Aleksandra leaned forward, giving the puffing mare a heartfelt hug, then sat up and mumbled sweet nothings to her, scratching her withers as they trotted slowly into the station.

Aleksandra left there on a gray colt, keen and ready to run. The keeper, his jaw set and a frown deeply embedded in his lined face, hadn’t seen the Eastbound Express rider either.

The trail ran gradually uphill ahead of her along the little creek, then left it, rising up the center of a long, open valley. On her left, two prospectors looked up from working their rocker in the creek to wave at her. She reined in for a moment.

‘Good afternoon gentlemen!’

‘And to you! Safe through Overland, are ye?’ shouted a big bear of a man.

‘Yessir!’ she shouted. ‘You haven’t seen an Eastbound rider in the past few days, have you?’

‘No.’ He turned to the other, who shook his head. ‘No, we haven’t, sorry, lad!’

‘Okay, thanks. Having any luck?’ She smiled at the pair.

‘Luck’s all good, Boy! All good!’ the other one added in a shrill voice.

‘What are these workings, please?’ Aleksandra remembered to lower her voice this time.

‘This here’s Clifton Flat, best gold workin’s in the territory!’ He puffed up his chest. ‘Major Egan found gold here a few years ago and we’re in his employ, workin’ it for him!’

‘Excellent, thank you, enjoy your day!’ she replied with a wave and loosed the reins. The colt, needing little encouragement, shot off like an arrow from a bow.

‘Hold on to your hair!’ The burly prospector bellowed over the wind in her ears, as the horse bolted on up the valley, then over the top of the next ridge.

Hopping off at the top, Aleksandra looked out over the expanse spread out before her in awe. The track arced steeply down the mountainside for several miles, with good visibility in every direction, before coming to rest in a huge, fertile-looking wash that seemed to go on forever. Her papa had called the place by its Indian name, Ibapah.

‘Guess we’d better start down that hill,’ she said to the colt, and began running down the track beside the colt, who snorted and skittered beside her until he became accustomed to trotting alongside her.

The Deep Creek Station keeper had no word of the missing rider either. Feeding her well, he sent her out on a pinto Mustang, who loped across the flat valley floor, heading for Prairie Gate. Only four more stations until she was done for the day.

On a keen horse and free to enjoy the day.

She finally let her mind wander back to Xavier and her heart sank, the only shadow in her day. She wondered how he fared with his family and if he missed her as she missed him.

With a gulp, she realized was time to face it. Ahead was a good three hours of open and clear trail to ride. It was time to work through it.

She took a deep breath to try to dispel the anxiety that immobilized her when she thought too hard about their relationship. Every time they seemed close, it all slipped away. She feared nothing she could do would ever hold it together.

Her thoughts circled throughout the day as they traversed the dry sage-brush flats, passing Prairie Gate and Antelope Springs Stations. She repeatedly gripped the buckskin bag beneath her shirt, desperate for guidance.

In the distance ahead stood the Antelope Range. The pass they needed to traverse wasn’t particularly high, but the rocky divide lined by cedars and piñón pines was still challenging. The fresh scent of the evergreens tingled in her nostrils when she brushed them in passing, clearing her head.

At Spring Valley Station, the worried keeper handed her two thick sourdough muffins filled with salt pork.

‘Hope it don’t spoil yer supper over at Schell, but it’s a long slog over that mountain.’

‘Always enough room for more food,’ she said with a grin.

‘Anyways, I’m givin’ you the best little horse I’ve got, Aleks.’

‘Thanks, Patrick.’ She took a deep breath and looked at the little black Mustang. Her eyes shone with a quiet intelligence. She was evenly muscled and solid, her legs clean.

‘She’s the toughest horse I’ve ever known. She’ll take good care of ye over Shellbourne Pass and get ye to Schell Creek in no time!’ He puffed his chest out as he stroked the mare’s neck.

‘I’m thankful for all the good horses and the men of the stations. They’ve always got a smile for me and a pat for the horses when we ride out.’

His brows drew together and he tried for a smile. ‘You take care out there, won’t you? We don’t want another missing rider.’

‘I’ll see you on the way back. We’ll be fine.’ Aleksandra gripped his hand firmly, then vaulted onto the mare and set off for Schell.

Aleksandra wasn’t sure which of them she was trying to reassure.

Her heart sang as the nimble mare climbed up through the trees to the top of the 7000-foot high pass. As the sun neared the horizon, the air began to cool and she hopped off, jogging down the descent to warm up and get some feeling back into her feet.

As she prepared to mount again, a movement back down on the flats caught her eye. Spinning toward it, she saw only a herd of antelope, now motionless, eyes staring and ears perked to scrutinize her passing. She gave a shaky laugh and the antelope disappeared into the dusk.

Aleksandra swayed and jerked back upright, coming awake from drowsing.

Not a good idea.

A station showed, about a mile away.

Must be Schell Creek. Think about something to stay awake.

Her mind flicked back to Xavier and she cringed.

And stop avoiding the challenge with him. Think it through, focus. Try to resolve something, before we get to Schell.

She shook herself.

It finally clicked. In her impatience, she’d driven him away by asking for more closeness than he could give. The emptiness in the pit of her stomach overwhelmed her, and the thought she might never have a chance to see him again, much less get the opportunity to make, no, let this relationship work.

Life is indeed short in the West.

As they neared the station, her choices suddenly became clear as a mountain lake.

How did I miss them before?

It was as if they were written on a wall before her.

You can’t make someone love you,

you can’t fix anyone,

and there’s nothing you can do to change it.

Fervently she vowed to offer Xavier, and others in her life, the time they needed to learn to trust, fully knowing she might never get the chance to try again with Xavier. Her desolation ran deep and tears poured down her cheeks as she rode into Schell Creek Station.

It might have been the mare that did it, stopping dead in her tracks, nearly dropping Aleksandra over her shoulder, or maybe it was the flies that buzzed around the blood pooling beneath the butchered man in the Express station doorway. Whichever it was, it got her full attention.


I hope you enjoyed that!

Long Trail Rolling

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A Kidnap Threat To The Ambassador to the Kingdom of Two Naples!

Despatches from Palermo (1810)
by Lord William Bentinck, English Ambassador to the Kingdom of Two Naples

Lord William Bentinck, pictured here as Captain in a portrait painted by George Romney. William Bentinck was ambassador to the Kingdom of Two Naples 1812-1816

My dear Lord Chamberlain,
I enclose this letter to you privately, so it will not appear in official correspondence.

I find myself the subject of a most extraordinary plot – one of kidnap on the high seas.

As you know, I have entered delicate negotiations with the Bey of Tunis for the release of more than three hundred Sicilians who were forcibly abducted from their home by the corsairs of the Barbary Coast.

Not only is it a matter of justice, but freeing of these unfortunate souls would also build immeasurable goodwill among the people whose interest I am trying to further with my reforms.

So far, standard diplomatic tactics have proved fruitless with the Bey. I don’t know if you are familiar with this culture but it appears to be the custom for the all the promises in the world to be made but when it comes time to deliver, it is a never ending litany of excuses.

With Napoleon’s Empire at my back in Naples and the Barbary Coast Pirates at my front, it is no easy task set before me. You know of my penchant to follow my intuition and I have done so once again with two young men.

Let’s hope Captain Hardacre can deal with the captured French Frigate in a less spectacular manner.

Captain Christopher Hardacre is an Englishman who runs a merchant vessel out of Palermo. He’s come to me with the most extraordinary tale. It seems one of the pirates has acquired a French frigate and he harbours ambitions to abduct me and my wife and hold us for ransom.

It sounded like a ravings of a mad man – and I have to confess that if was just his testimony alone I’d ignore it, but in Hardacre’s favour is one of his men, an African by the name of Jonathan Afua who I’ve come to learn is a son of one of Ethiopia’s most aristocratic families. He strikes me as being a much more steady character than his captain. It is his grave assessment I’ve learned to trust.

As for the abduction threat, Hardacre has hatched an audacious plan to keep me safe in exchange for the claiming the French frigate for himself as spoils.

Whether Hardacre succeeds or not is immaterial as I have appraised Admiral Freemantle who has agreed that the next meeting with the Bey of Tunis should be done as a show of force so we will be arriving in Tunisia with a fleet that also contains the flagship The Milford.

I’ll write when I have more news,

William

 

Excerpt

Shadow of the Corsairs

Bagrada

Shadow of the Corsairs – out June 26 2018 – https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07DM9VJ5Z

Jonathan’s stomach soured.

Even though it had been more than a year since his captivity there, the very sound of its name reminded him there was work still to finish, a past that could not draw to a close until he had answers.

“Bagrada. Are you sure?” Elias asked. “We’ve sailed by several times over the past six months and there’s no noteworthy activity there.”

Hardacre looked up from the map of the Tunisian coastline. “Sharrouf is certain.”

Elias snorted and folded his arms. “I think you put too much stock in what that man says. He’s a snake, Kit, and he’s not to be trusted.”

“I never said he was to be trusted. He might very well hate Kaddouri as much as we do. But so long as he is a member of the inner circle, then he is useful to us.”

“Unless Kaddouri is using him to lure us into a trap,” countered the first officer. “We’ve stopped three of his raids over the past twelve months and helped free more than a hundred enslaved souls. He’d be just as keen to see the end of us.”

Jonathan shook his head. Kit and Elias bickered like he and his older brother used to. It was time for him to step in.

“What’s Sharrouf getting in exchange for telling you the location of Kaddouri’s fleet?” he asked.

“Information here and there to help with something.”

“Which is?”

“Kidnapping Lord William Bentinck.”

“You jest!”

Hardacre said nothing for a moment. The upturn of his lip was trouble, Jonathan knew that, and so did Elias who turned away with an exaggerated groan.

“Go on,” said Jonathan. “Tell us the whole thing before you make Elias’ head explode.”

“I might not have been completely honest with Sharrouf,” Hardacre confessed. This time, both ends of his mouth lifted and there was a twinkle of manic glee in his eyes. “I told him Bentinck plans another trip to Tunis to petition for the release of the Sicilian slaves, but I neglected to tell him Bentinck’s going with a show of strength instead of taking one ship with a single escort. Accompanying The Milford will be a dozen heavily-armed ships from the Royal Navy.”

“And both Bentinck and Admiral Fremantle know to expect an attack,” Jonathan concluded. “That’s a good plan. What makes you sure Kaddouri will take the bait?”

“Oh, he will. Sharrouf has told me he’s just managed to acquire a double gunned frigate.”

Elias rocked back on his feet. “How has he managed to get one of those? That would carry almost as much firepower as The Milford.”

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